Dark halos and elliptical galaxies as marginally stable dynamical systems

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The origin of equilibrium gravitational configurations is sought in terms of the stability of their trajectories, as described by the curvature of their Lagrangian configuration manifold of particle positions - a context in which subtle spurious effects originating from the singularity in the two-body potential become particularly clear. We focus on the case of spherical systems, which support only regular orbits in the collisionless limit, despite the persistence of local exponential instability of N-body trajectories in the anomalous case of discrete point particle representation even as N → ∞. When the singularity in the potential is removed, this apparent contradiction disappears. In the absence of fluctuations, equilibrium configurations generally correspond to positive scalar curvature and thus support stable trajectories. A null scalar curvature is associated with an effective, averaged equation of state describing dynamically relaxed equilibria with marginally stable trajectories. The associated configurations are quite similar to those of observed elliptical galaxies and simulated cosmological halos and are necessarily different from the systems dominated by isothermal cores, expected from entropy maximization in the context of the standard theory of violent relaxation. It is suggested that this is the case because a system starting far from equilibrium does not reach a "most probable state" via violent relaxation, but that this process comes to an end as the system finds and (settles in) a configuration where it can most efficiently wash out perturbations. We explicitly test this interpretation by means of direct simulations. © 2013. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..

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